By August 28, 2017 Read More →

Event to honor Rosie the Riveters on Labor Day

By JOSHUA QUALLS

The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. Rosies will once again be armed with bells on Labor Day to celebrate and honor their work behind rivet guns during World War II.

The second “Ring a Bell for Rosie” event honoring women in the workforce will be at Pullman Square at 12:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 4. It will begin with a program featuring guest speaker Tijah Bumgarner, a filmmaker who has interviewed Rosies, and the bell-ringing ceremony will start at 1 p.m.

A “Rosie the Riveters” display hangs in the Pullman Plaza Hotel in Huntington.
(Herald-Dispatch photo by Lori Wolfe)

Rosie the Riveter is now an icon of women’s strength and power, but organizers worry that the symbol’s historical context and meaning might be lost with time if living Rosies’ stories aren’t told and a record isn’t established. Since the war ended more than 70 years ago, the organizers also may not have much time left before no more Rosies are left.

“They have had a profound influence on American society,” said Anne Jacobs Montague, who began meeting and interviewing Rosies back in 2008. “I saw immediately that there should be basically years of work to leave permanent records of who they are and what they’ve done.”

Montague is the executive director of Thanks! Plain and Simple, an organization dedicated to honoring Rosies and preserving their memories. Her own mother, Jessie Jacobs, was a Rosie the Riveter who worked at Polan Industries in Huntington.

Thanks! Plain and Simple has done 18 different projects so far, some in Huntington or nearby. Pullman Plaza Hotel, for example, now has a permanent Rosie the Riveter display, which was installed in 2013 with the help of Rosies.

What’s more, Wayne County has the first government building in America to be named “Rosie the Riveter.”

“The Rosies chose that location because my mother had worked on those grounds,” Montague said. Polan Industries was actually located on the 2600 block of Park Avenue, where the WorkForce West Virginia building is now.

Rosies in Huntington also worked at the old Sylvania plant, which closed in 1957, and Adel Fasteners, which closed in 1993. Across the country, they primarily made airplanes, weapons and ammunition for the U.S. Armed Forces.

Considering the famous image of Rosie is of a woman working with a rivet gun, bells may not seem like a fitting tribute on the surface. But there is at least an indirect connection between Rosies and the bells.

“Because (the carillon) has many-sized bells, it was supposed to be a symbol that ‘every voice counts,’ ” said Pamela McCoy, president-elect of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of West Virginia. “That’s the reason they really picked up on ringing a bell for Rosie – so that their voices could be told, that their stories could be told.”

The carillon is now in Arlington, Virginia, where Montague will be on Labor Day to coordinate what has become somewhat of a national event. She didn’t expect her efforts to blossom this quickly, but people will be ringing bells with Rosies in many parts of the U.S.

Huntington has seven Rosies, at least as far as Montague and McCoy know.

They hope to reach more Rosies through events like this and to connect younger generations with living Rosies as a way of preserving their history. Besides that, Montague hopes to establish a memorial to Rosie in Washington, D.C., and to use her work with Rosies to attract young women to STEM occupations.

“There’s really an urgency at this point to try to get as many histories as they can,” McCoy said.

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